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Community Guest Post Reflections Summer 2014 The Farm at Stonehill

Guest Post! — Permaculture: Why Mow When You Can Grow?

Why Mow When You Can Grow?

 By: Christine Moodie (Class of 2015)

photo of Summer Farmers relax in the new Permaculture test plot located at The Farm.
Summer Farmers relax in the new Permaculture test plot located at The Farm.

While the summer harvest is providing us with a bounty of fresh produce for our community partners, a team of students and faculty are actively performing research to create permaculture gardens for the Stonehill College and Massasoit Community College Campuses through funding provided by the Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee!

How did this research take root? In the late spring, two faculty members, Bridget Meigs, Instructor and Farm Manager at The Farm at Stonehill, and Melanie Trecek-King, Assistant Professor and Chair of the Sustainable Landscaping Committee at Massasoit Community College met with Rachel Hirst, Assistant Professor of Biology and Marie Kelly, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, to discuss the potential to work together and with students Jamall Plummer of Massasoit and myself, to create on-campus permaculture gardens at each of the respective colleges.  When I was approached with this research opportunity while I was studying sustainability in Australia, I was thrilled to become involved and be a part of the project.  I became even more excited when I met Jamall Plummer, a passionate student and leader in the garden projects at Massasoit College and active urban farmer at his home in Brockton.

photo of Some of the gardens at the Massasoit College Brockton Campus.
Some of the gardens at the Massasoit College Brockton Campus.

The research project and the resulting gardens will serve as living laboratory spaces, allowing students from both campuses to connect with one another – creating academic and community linkages between Stonehill and Massasoit for years to come.

photo of Jamall Plummer working in the Massasoit gardens!
Jamall Plummer, Massasoit student collaborator, working in the Massasoit gardens!

Now, what is permaculture? Permaculture, also described as “permanent agriculture”, or “permanent culture” (since the two are so often intertwined!) is a regenerative design system that involves observing and mimicking the relationships found in nature to create ecological and edible landscapes and sustainable communities and economies.  Therefore, permaculture incorporates organic growing methods that emphasizes growing polycultures (a number of different kinds of crops) over monocultures (one kind of crop) and planting perennial (plants that come back year after year) rather than annual crops (plants that have just one season) to ultimately create a complete and self-perpetuating system!

An herb spiral is a permaculture design. When you visit The Farm you will see one of these in the middle of the meditation garden.
An herb spiral is a permaculture design. When you visit The Farm you will see one of these in the middle of the meditation garden.

Why have a garden on campus?  I think by having a garden on campus, it begins to change people’s perceptions on how they think about food- from production to consumption. I really want students to think about where their food is coming from, how it is being grown, and who is growing it, so we can all begin to change those norms!  The garden would show a real life example of how to convert underutilized grass lawns on the campus into edible, educational, and biodiverse gardens!

photo of UMASS Amherst has led the way in integrating Permaculture Gardens into their campus's landscape.  Here is a sketch of their flagship garden, located right next to one of their dining facilities on campus in Amherst, MA.
UMASS Amherst has led the way in integrating Permaculture Gardens into their campus’s landscape. Here is a sketch of their flagship garden, located right next to one of their dining facilities on campus in Amherst, MA.

The garden will hopefully also inspire more Stonehill students and staff to visit The Farm at Stonehill and learn more about food desert conditions in parts of Brockton to help to inspire more lasting solutions.  In the future, the garden will also provide educational opportunities and living laboratory spaces for ecological and scientific research.  It will bring together students, faculty, and staff from all different realms and disciplines and offer additional volunteer opportunities while being an outlet and source of inspiration for students during the school year.

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A college campus is a perfect setting for implementing a permaculture garden as they are replicable, low-maintenance, scalable and can be adapted to suit anyone and in any climate!  In addition, all of the food harvested from the garden will be available to the entire Stonehill Community, providing healthy and nutritious food grown from the campus itself!

In the past two weeks, we have been preparing the permaculture garden at the Farm for planting in the fall by outlining the beds with rocks and adding compost and mulch!

Watch the progression below!

photo of Location for the Permaculture Garden test plot at The Farm at Stonehill!
Location for the Permaculture Garden test plot at The Farm at Stonehill.

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photo of Making progress! Thank you to Langwater Farm for the local rocks that we used to outline the beds!
Making progress! Thank you to Langwater Farm for the local rocks that we used to outline the beds.

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photo of     “The Farm at Stonehill” brick at the entrance to the garden for a unique and authentic touch!
“The Farm at Stonehill” brick at the entrance to the garden for a unique and authentic touch!

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photo of Bridget and Chris laying down plastic for the pathways to keep down the weeds!
Farm Manger, Bridget and Summer Farmer, Chris, laying down a plastic ground cloth for the pathways to keep the weeds from taking over!

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Adding mulch to the beds - a big thanks to all of the farmers, Bridget, Devin, Anna, Andrew, Chris, and Kaleigh for helping with the first stages of implementation of the garden!
Adding mulch to the beds – a big thanks to all of the farmers, Bridget, Devin, Anna, Andrew, Chris, and Kaleigh for helping with the first stages of implementation of the garden.

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Ready for planting! Here we will plant some fruit trees, perennial vegetables and flowers as well as some annual crops.
Ready for planting! Here we will plant some fruit trees, perennial vegetables and flowers as well as some annual crops in our test plot at The Farm.

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On another exciting note, the location of the on-campus garden is in the final stages of approval – it is located behind the split rail fence along the southern edge of Duffy Parking Lot behind the senior courts.  We are very excited about this high visibility location that many students will pass on a daily basis! The garden beds will be planted with a variety of annual and perennial plants that will be maintained by students affiliated with the club Food Truth and under the supervision of Bridget Meigs, Farm Manager.

photo of Proposed site for our Permaculture Garden on campus.
Proposed site for our Permaculture Garden on campus.

Once we receive approval, we are excited to begin sheet mulching on campus soon and begin planting our perennial crops in the fall!  Sheet mulching is a no dig, no till gardening technique that reduces labor inputs, improves soil quality, prevents soil erosion, and improves plant health and productivity.  Sheet mulching involves aerating the soil, reducing soil compaction while disturbing it a lot less than using a tractor, then covering the area with compost, organic matter that will improve soil health and add nutrients to the soil.  The compost is then covered with a layer of cardboard or newspapers, which will prevent weeds from growing.  Lastly, the area is covered by a mulch layer, which will hold in moisture and nutrients for the plants!

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We can’t wait to continue the work on this project and begin to watch the garden grow!

Please contact me if you’d like to learn more and get involved in Food Truth or these garden projects: cmoodie2@students.stonehill.edu.

Categories
Community Community Partners Greenhouse Guest Post Our Vision The Farm at Stonehill Winter 2014

Winter Research: From the Lab to the Field

From the Lab to The Field: Cold-Tolerance Gene Research at the Farm

Guest post by, Danielle Garceau, Class of 2015

photo of Cold-hardy crops ready for winter in the hoop house
Cold-hardy crops ready for winter in the hoop house.

Even during the quieter, less hectic winter months, there is still a surprising amount of activity at the farm. From Mesclun mix and other cold weather crops like Spinach growing along in the hoop house, to students learning in their outdoor classroom, the farm is still a happening place.

But what else might be going on? Yes, research! As the temperature begins to drop the farm is the ideal location for an ongoing study that I am conducting with Professor Irvin Pan of the Biology Department with the support of the Farm. Through this research, we are hoping to determine the underlying genetic basis for cold-tolerance in crop species known to be cold-hardy.

Funded by the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and the Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program, this project is a continuation of research conducted this past growing season that will shift from the lab to the farm this winter. We are collecting and analyzing field data to better understand how certain tasty plant species can survive in outdoor winter weather environments.

Over this past summer, our group identified the cold tolerance genes Inducer of CBF Expression 1 (ICE1), C-Repeat Binding Factor 3 (CBF3), and Eskimo 1 (ESK1) in known cold-hardy crops such as Broccoli, Bok-Choi, and Kale alongside the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana. We conducted an experiment to compare the expression of the cold-tolerance gene CBF3 in plants incubated at warm and cold temperatures.

This figure represents the changes in CBF3 levels over a 2 hour time period. Red arrows indicate CBF3 levels before the cold exposure and blue arrows indicate CBF3 levels after the cold exposure with numbers below the bands representing expression level as compared to before the cold exposure.
Cold Exposure Experiment: Gel Electrophoresis:   This figure represents the changes in CBF3 levels over a 2 hour time period. Red arrows indicate CBF3 levels before the cold exposure and blue arrows indicate CBF3 levels after the cold exposure with numbers below the bands representing expression level as compared to before the cold exposure.

The picture above is one of many gel electrophoreses ran on the DNA (in this case, cDNA or complementary DNA that is made from mRNA or messenger RNA) of these crop species. The bands above are the actual DNA of a specific gene that we are studying. The brighter the band, the more DNA there is in the plant tissue, meaning the plant is turning on this specific gene. As you can see from this gel picture after a 2 hour long exposure to cold temperatures, the expression level of the cold-tolerance gene CBF3 underwent as much as a 15 fold increase! We think that this may be one reason why plants like Broccoli, Kale, and Bok-Choi don’t mind colder temperatures.

photo of Greenhouse Cold Exposure Experiment in the Greenhouse at Shield Science Center.
Greenhouse Cold Exposure Experiment in the Greenhouse at Shield Science Center.

Through conducting further cold exposure experiments this winter at the greenhouse we hope to confirm these results on a larger scale and over a longer time period of one month while also recording the temperatures that the plants experience every hour using a temperature data logger.

photo of The new cold frame at The Farm.
The new cold frame at The Farm.

In addition to our work in the heated greenhouse this winter, we hope to also grow our cold-hardy plants in the newly built cold frame. Using the cold frame will allow us to gather data in a setting in which not only farmers but home gardeners could grow crops during the colder months of the year. This cold frame will also prove to be a useful learning tool in sustainable agriculture practices to students that use the farm as an outdoor classroom and engage in classes like Sustainable Agriculture – taught by Farm Manager Meigs.

In conducting this research at the farm we hope to ultimately extend the farm’s growing season further into the winter through the selection of crops most suited to colder temperatures. Through extending the farm’s growing season we also hope to enable the farm to provide fresh produce to community partners well into the winter season.

Categories
Community Guest Post Summer 2013 Summer Cultivation 2013 Summer Harvest 2013 Summer Volunteers 2013 The Farm at Stonehill Volunteer

Sun Gold Cherry, Indigo Rose, and the Pleasures of The Farm at Stonehill

Guest Post by Stephen Siperstein, Adjuct Professor at Stonehill College, Writing Program

A glorious fall-like day in August at The Farm.
A glorious fall-like day in August at The Farm. A great day for picking, planting, weeding, and simply enjoying the fresh air filtering down the rows of ripe veggies and colorful flowers out in the fields.

Was yesterday the first day of autumn?  The calendar said no, but the Farm at Stonehill shone brightly in the crisp, cool air.  A cloudless sky, a strong breeze, the smell of pine duff wafting over rows of ripening vegetables: I was glad that I had picked this day to volunteer.  However, once I got into the tomato rows, which were significantly warmer than the rest of the farm, I could tell that it would not be as enjoyable working here during the dog days of summer.  The rows heat up like an oven, and, as a former student of mine and former farm intern pointed out, the tomato plants are covered in a fine, nettle-like fuzz: not fun for hours of picking.

 Even with the realization that this was not a cool paradise but an environment requiring hard, hot work, I was nevertheless a little disappointed in myself that it had taken until August for me to make it across Washington Street.  Should have been here all summer long, I thought to myself.

As I walked through the rows, Jake Gillis, a rising senior and one of this summer’s interns, cheerfully called out to me and offered up a handful of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes.

Tomatoes in all of the colors of the rainbow!
Tomatoes in all of the colors of the rainbow! Tomatoes pictured here from upper right, going clockwise are Big Beef Tomato, Sun Gold Cherry Tomato, Indigo Rose Tomato, Red Pearl Red Grape Tomato – and Rose de Berne Tomatoes in the center.

“You should try these,” he said.  “We snack on them while we’re out in the fields harvesting.”

So I tried.  And I thanked him, because the name is apt; I suddenly had a mouth filled with golden sunshine.  Glorious.  I have always loved tomatoes, but these were some of the best and sweetest I had ever tasted.  Amazing that there can be so much pleasure in a tiny orange fruit.  Orange, you wonder.  I have come to learn that most tomatoes are not actually just red; they are infinite shades of red, yellow, green, purple, pink, and orange.  And usually, the ones that aren’t the expected shade of red are the ones filled with the most pleasure.

Big Beet Tomatoes - a variety we are accustomed to seeing.
Big Beet Tomatoes – a variety we are accustomed to seeing. They are delicious, don’t get us wrong, but trying all of the different varieties is a real treat.

Big chain grocery stores and fast food burger commercials might have us believe otherwise, but they are misleading.  Tomatoes grown in a place like The Farm aren’t the perfectly red, spherical, plastic-looking items you can pick up in the produce aisle.  They are multi-hued, oddly shaped, and sometimes, like in the case of the heirloom variety called Indigo Rose, they look and taste a little strange.  Strange, but pleasurable.

Nubia Eggplant - not as purple as those we are used to seeing in most grocery stores, but more tender and definitely delicious!
Nubia Eggplant – not as purple as those we are used to seeing in most grocery stores, but more tender and definitely a tasty alternative. Hooray for diversity!

The great poet and agriculturalist Wendell Berry has written about the pleasure that comes from knowing, and eating, one’s own food.  He explains that “A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes,” and that “[those] people who know the garden in which their vegetables have grown…and remember the beauty of the growing plants” will more easily attain such consciousness.  The Farm at Stonehill is a haven where such consciousness, and such pleasure, is possible.  Just try a Sun Gold cherry or an Indigo Rose (which some say tastes like licorice when slightly under ripe) while standing in the hot but beautiful fields, and you will taste it.  Or ask the interns and volunteers who have been working here through the summer.

Red Pearl Red Grape Tomatoes - ready to be weighed and then delivered.
Red Pearl Red Grape Tomatoes – ready to be weighed and then delivered.

You might protest that I’m making a big deal out of a little fruit, freighting it with a kind of pastoral, agricultural fantasy, or imagining that it is only by being at The Farm (which is a great privilege for those of us at Stonehill and our guests who visit from surrounding communities) and standing in its fields, that one can enjoy a tomato.  Such a fantasy would belie the hard work that goes into the fruit.  Furthermore, it would belie the fact that people depend on it.  It’s just food, you might say.  And I would agree.  First and foremost, a tomato is food, not a bucolic charm.

Later that afternoon, after the interns, Bridget, and I had harvested over 150 pounds (a good haul for an early season harvest) of tomatoes of various varieties, we hopped into the farm’s pickup truck to bring the multi-colored bounty to the nearby Easton Food Pantry and My Brother’s Keeper.  As we were unloading boxes outside the Food Pantry, an older couple walked out with a few bags of food.  We offered them some of the fresh tomatoes to add to what they had, and though they were at first hesitant, they eventually accepted.  We made sure that they tried a few different varieties.  At My Brother’s Keeper, we chatted with Beth Collins, who organizes the food distribution there.  Anyone in the Easton and Brockton area who is having trouble getting food for the week can call up My Brother’s Keeper and get a box of food, no questions asked.  Beth makes sure also to include info in those boxes about the different kinds of produce, with recipes and suggestions about how to prepare them, just in case someone doesn’t know what to do with a purple tomato or potato (as few of us would).

Rocky Ford Muskmelon - an Heirloom Variety that we found in The High Mowing Organic Seed company's catalog.
Rocky Ford Muskmelon – an heirloom variety that we found in The High Mowing Organic Seed company’s catalog.  These are still ripening up, but we are looking forward to sharing these sweet melons soon.

            Berry writes, “The pleasure of eating should be an extensive pleasure, not that of the mere gourmet.”  Berry thinks that the pleasure of eating should be extensive, meaning that it should extend out from plants to people, from fruits to taste buds (and not just the taste buds of the foodies or the gourmands, but everyone’s taste buds), from farm to community.  In such a vision, a farm and the food that is grown there becomes, like the tomato plant’s roots that bind the soil, the connective tissue that bonds the community.  Extensive becomes another word for democratic, and the farm embodies democracy in the most radical way: having to do with roots.

With Bridget, the interns, and volunteers working through both the glorious and sometimes more humid or rainy days, The Farm at Stonehill flourishes with its partners, weaving the roots of community.  And by so doing its pleasures are not confined to the rows of plants themselves, but are tasted in many homes.  The Farm connects so many of us through its food and its pleasures, because really, why should the two be separate?